Results tagged ‘ New York ’

That Championship Season

*To all of my football lovers out there: this one is for the Giants. Because we were ALL IN.*

Before Super Bowl XLII in February of 2008, then-Giants’ wide receiver Plaxico Burress predicted his team would beat the Patriots by a score of 21-17. New York wound up beating New England in exciting fashion, 17-14. It may have taken another four years but last night Burress’s prediction finally came to fruition.

In Super Bowl XLVI the Giants beat the Patriots 21-17, in another exhilarating title match.

I can’t really explain why – maybe it’s just God’s way – but whenever the Giants and Patriots meet, the Giants seem to have their number. Two weeks ago I wrote about all the similarities between this year and their last Championship season.

And both Super Bowls proved to be just as comparable.

2007: The Patriots led at halftime, but not by a lot: 7-3.

2011: The Patriots led at halftime, and again, not by much: 10-9.

2007: Eli Manning had the ball on his own 17-yard line, Giants trailing 14-10 with just 2:39 left in the game.

2011: Eli Manning had the ball on his own 12-yard line, Giants trailing 17-15 with just 3:46 left in the game.

2007: On third and five Manning evaded what looked like a sack, threw up a Hail Mary, and miraculously hit David Tyree, who pinned the football up against his helmet for a 32-yard completion and a first down. The catch laid the groundwork for the winning touchdown.

2011: On the first play from scrimmage, Manning found Mario Manningham near the sideline and beating double coverage, hooked up with him for a 38-yard gain, giving the Giants prime field position to set up a score.

2007: Manning hit Burress in the end zone for a TD with just 35 seconds left on the clock. Tom Brady and the Patriots failed to move the ball into field goal range as time ticked down and lost by three points, 17-14.

2011: Ahmad Bradshaw hesitantly ran the ball into the end zone for a TD, leaving Brady and the Pats with only 57 seconds to score a touchdown. And once again, Brady and his receivers failed to move the ball down the field, losing by four points, 21-17.

2007: Manning wins the Super Bowl XLII Most Valuable Player award. He went to Disney World and the Canyon of Heroes – in that order.

2011: Take a guess who won Super Bowl XLVI MVP….Yes. It was Manning again. Today Manning was once again at Mickey Mouse’s home – and tomorrow he’ll be with his teammates in the Canyon of Heroes.

This year truly was, as Yogi Berra would say, déjà vu. Or déjà blue, depending on which way you want to phrase it. New York once again triumphs over New England, and gets the opportunity to celebrate a huge win.

Jubilation in New York. And for the fans in Boston; New England: more heartache.

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe had it right today when he wrote,

“History Repeats:

Instead of celebrating a grand slam–championships in every major sport over a period of four years and four months–New Englanders are spitting out pieces of their broken luck, bracing for the avalanche of grief from those annoying New Yorkers.”

Yeah, pretty much spot on.

Every fan of the Patriots must be saying “Mario (bleeping) Manningham” right now, the same way four years ago they were undoubtedly saying “David (bleeping) Tyree” – and just like most Red Sox fans in the past have exclaimed, “Bucky (bleeping) Dent” and “Aaron (bleeping) Boone.”

A win like yesterday is the type of victory that can carry New York bragging rights over New England for a long way.

I know as a fan of the Giants, and as a fan who doubted they would go anywhere this season, I was enthralled; fascinated. The familiar feeling of sports joy overcame me. One of my favorite teams won a title and I was so happy I got down on one knee and…I’m not calling it “Tebowing.” In the spirit of the win, I prefer to call it “Manning’ing.”

That’s what I did.

Tom Coughlin, the Giants’ Head Coach, seemed just as happy as I was, seeing as how he was on the hot seat when the Giants scuffled. Coughlin became the oldest Head Coach in the NFL to win a Super Bowl at 65 years. He is also only the second coach to lead the Giants to a Super Bowl win. Bill Parcells was at the helm of the squad for the Giants’ first two Super Bowl victories in 1986 and 1990.

As for Manning…well…

At the outset of the season he called himself an elite quarterback; a top five-caliber manager who deserves to be put on the same level as Brady. The media jumped all over that statement and put Manning under the microscope. When he struggled, they doubted his words.

But now that he has beaten Brady three times in his career – and twice on the worldwide stage – his bold words are now inarguable. Manning is an elite quarterback, and he is as every bit as good as Brady, if not better. He led his team in a total of eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this season (including the postseason).

If that isn’t considered clutch, what the heck is?

And now, if anyone tries to call out Manning; say he isn’t one of the best QBs in the league, their point will be invalid. The proof of his greatness lies in his stat columns and the number of Super Bowl rings on his fingers.

No more Manning-bashing.

The Giants became only the fifth team in NFL history to win four or more Super Bowls. The Pittsburgh Steelers own six titles, the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers both have five. The Green Bay Packers have four, and now, so does the so-called “Big Blue Wrecking Crew.”

That’s right. The Steelers have the most Super Bowl titles in history with six. Football certainly is a different game than baseball as far as the Championship goes, looking at the 27 World Series titles the Yankees have.

And speaking of the Yankees, Spring Training will be starting shortly. Pretty soon camp will start and before we know it camp will break, bringing the 2012 MLB season. Now that football season has come to a dramatic and happy ending, baseball is soon to begin.

And while we wait, we can enjoy yet another New York Championship.

Déjà Blue

Editor’s note: I know this blog is basically reserved for baseball highlights, personal Yankee-related stories, and analysis of the Yankees, but given the circumstances surrounding yesterday night’s game, I made an exception to write about my favorite football team, the New York Giants.

I spent Yesterday night in the same place I spent Game One of the 2011-12 NFL season on Sept. 11 – at my best friend’s house watching the New York Giants.

The Giants played the Washington Redskins in Week 1, and didn’t look very good coming out of the gate. Sometime during the first half of the game, Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning was under heavy pressure, he scrambled, and ran the ball into the end zone for a touchdown.

I jumped out of my seat and yelled out in sarcasm,

“Rushing touchdown for Eli Manning! Hey, this might be a good year after all.”

After getting laughed at by my friends and hearing from certain people how “The Buffalo Bill” (yes, the Buffalo Bill, not the Buffalo Bills) were the “only New York team” (inside joke, being that the Giants and Jets play their home games in New Jersey) the Giants went on to lose 28-14 to the typically bad Redskins.

Yet, my skepticism didn’t start during their first game. I was incredibly skeptical before the season even started. The so-called “Big Blue Wrecking Crew” allowed a number of their players to walk away, losing them to free agency. I thought for sure it would be another season in which the Jets – the other New York team – would overshadow them on the back pages of the newspapers.

The Jets had been to the last two AFC title games and came dangerously close to winning them both times, nearly punching their ticket to the Super Bowl. Not to mention the Jets added former Giant hero Plaxico Burress, who caught the game-winning TD in Super Bowl XLII to beat the 18-0 New England Patriots.

We all remember that happy story, right? I thought so.

Knowing the Giants were playing the Jets on Christmas Eve when the NFL schedule broke, I called and text messaged some of my friends who are Jets fans saying, “Congrats on the win on Christmas Eve. The Giants are going to have a horrible year.”

My faith in the team was just nonexistent.

However, it picked up a little bit as the season progressed, and the G-Men got on a little bit of a roll. They sort of came together, going 6-2 after eight weeks. The Giants began playing smash-mouth football, and most importantly they got healthy.

A number of their key players on the defensive end and their secondary were hurt, rendering them vulnerable to teams that weren’t necessarily stronger, but dictated games a lot better.

Case in point: their game vs. the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 9.

The Giants were certainly playing like the better team, but a few miscues on defense and a big mistake on offense – a fourth quarter interception by Manning – cost Big Blue the game.

Still, they were able to hang with teams, stay in the playoff race, and they obviously got healthy and red-hot at the right time. And it all started with, believe it or not, their game against the Jets.

Manning began a 29-14 rout of the Green Team with a 99-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Victor Cruz, who seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the Giants’ top offensive weapons – and one of the league’s top receivers. The 99-yarder tied an NFL record, and his 89 yards after the catch is the most by a receiver on a 99-yard TD.

Not bad for a player who went undrafted.

Needless to say I was extremely happy the Giants beat the Jets and I learned a valuable lesson from that game: never lose faith in your team. Always have faith and always believe in them, even when it’s hard to and it looks as though defeat is imminent.

For a fan who congratulated fans of the other team months before the game even took place, and to have my team win – and win by a lot – was certainly humbling, to say the very least.

From there the G-Men just got on a win streak: a 31-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys to get into the playoff dance, a 24-2 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Wild Card weekend, a 37-20 spanking of the heavily favored, 15-1 Green Bay Packers, and finally a 20-17 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers.

And now we’re back to where we were in 2008: Giants vs. Patriots in the Super Bowl.

As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu, all over again!”

There are so many eerie similarities between this season and the 2007-08 campaign in which the Giants defeated the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Let me count the ways…

2007: The Giants lost their first two games, but eventually caught fire and held a 6-2 record after eight games.

2011: The Giants lost their first game and became a bit streaky, yet held a 6-2 record after eight games.

2007: Up against tough odds, the G-Men played an undefeated 15-0 Patriots team on the last day of the regular season. Big Blue hung step-for-step with the Pats, but wound up losing 38-35.

2011: Again, up against unfavorable odds, the Giants played the defending champion Packers, who were 12-0 heading into their game vs. New York in Week 13. The G-Men kept themselves in it, and looked to be clicking on all cylinders. However, some sloppy defense at the tail end of the game led to a loss, 38-35.

2007: On the road, the Giants won 10 straight games – and if you include the Super Bowl, 11 wins in a row away from the Meadowlands.

2011: The Giants are currently on a four-game win streak on the road – and they will be the away team in the upcoming Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 5.

2007: In the NFC Championship Game on the “Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field,” the Giants and Packers played to a 20-20 tie in subzero temperatures. In overtime, a key turnover by Brett Favre (an interception, which was picked off by cornerback Corey Webster) set up a field goal for the Giants. Kicker Lawrence Tynes, from 47 yards out, booted Big Blue into the Super Bowl.

2011: In the NFC Championship Game at a wet and soggy Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the Giants and 49ers played to a 17-17 tie after regulation, forcing the title game into overtime. Niners’ punt return specialist Kyle Williams was stripped of the ball by New York linebacker Jacquian Williams. The fumble was recovered by Giants’ wide receiver/specialist Devin Thomas, a costly turnover. The play set up a 31-yard field goal – which was made by Tynes to send New York to the Super Bowl.

2007: The Patriots beat the San Diego Chargers in the AFC title game, only to lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

2011: The Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game, and will once again play the Giants in the Super Bowl.

It’s pretty incredible how many parallels can be drawn between this year and the magical championship run the Giants put together a few years ago. I never thought when I was sarcastically saying “this could be a good year after all” and when I was giving the Jets the win over the Giants months before the game that the G-Men would be where they are now.

After the big win over the 49ers, Giants’ safety Antrel Rolle said, “No one gave us a shot.”

Yes sir. I will admit I was guilty of that, even as a loyal fan.

 Yet Rolle even admitted that at times throughout the season, the team didn’t even give themselves a shot – so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself as far as my wavering faith in the G-Men.

I went into this NFL season as a fan with the lowest of expectations. The Giants just by making the postseason proved me wrong. And now as NFC Champs, going to their fifth Super Bowl in franchise history, have gone above and beyond anything I ever expected out of them this year.

There might not be as much pressure on the Giants, being that New England isn’t playing for an undefeated season this time around. The Giants had to win Super Bowl XLII, otherwise they would always be remembered as “that fluke Super Bowl team who the Patriots beat to go 19-0.”

Instead they became “that pesky, resilient team who stopped the Patriots from going 19-0, and embarrassed them in front of the world.”

As far as the rematch goes, I don’t know what to anticipate; I have no idea what to expect. But if history has shown us anything, things look good for the New York Football Giants. It’s bound to be another good game; one the world will undoubtedly be watching.

Think of Yankees vs. Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS – that’s the type of feel this game is bound to possess.

No matter what happens in Super Bowl XLVI, I am proud of the Giants. They turned a season in which I expected nothing into a season that could very well be something special.

A Talk With Bernie?

On Thursday night I was working, covering some high school hockey here in upper Westchester, New York. My job doesn’t require me to take photos of the athletes I’m covering, so usually my editor (who is also a photographer) will show up at the games and shoot the players for pictures.

In between periods during the hockey game I received some really interesting news.

My editor was giving me some background information on the game I covered last night, which happened to be a boy’s basketball game. After he let me know what to watch out for at the boy’s hoops game, he looked at me and said,

“I should be sending you to the Byram Hills/Fox Lane girls’ basketball game. Bernie Williams might be there.”

Uh…what?!

“His daughter Beatriz is a senior and plays on the Byram Hills team, and he attends a lot of her games,” he continued. “She’s pretty good; she got her 1,000th point the other night.”

I had no idea Bernie’s daughter plays on one of the teams my newspaper covers – and I didn’t know she was that good! 1,000 points in a high school career is quite impressive.

The news got even better when my editor explained to me that Bernie is very approachable at these games. In fact, one of the other reporters working for our paper met him at a game last year and has interviewed him already.

I was then told I could ask him for an interview as well, and maybe write a feature story on him and Bea. I can’t think of anything more amazing than writing a story on one of my favorite Yankees; a player I grew up with and might have the chance to interview.

Not to mention it would put Yankee Yapping over the top! If I can get this interview, I will undoubtedly write about the experience here. Maybe it would put Yankee Yapping into the category of elite internet Yankee blogs?

Perhaps.

In any event, according to the local schedule, the Byram Hills girls play their next game on Friday Feb. 3 at home – most of the teams are off next week because of high school midterms. I remember those, and no, I do not miss them.

My editor is probably going to send me to that game, and that could very well be the night I get to talk to and possibly interview (or set up an interview with) Yankee legend Bernie Williams. I don’t want to get my hopes up if for some reason it doesn’t work out, but nonetheless I think it’s pretty cool his daughter is on one of the teams I’ll be covering.

Just getting the chance to shake Bernie’s hand and maybe getting to talk to him for a minute will be enough for me. He has always been and will always be one of my favorite Yankees, ever.

And speaking of communicating with Yankees, I was on Twitter this afternoon and noticed Joba Chamberlain tweeting about the New York Rangers vs. Boston Bruins game. I decided to switch over to the hockey game and attempted to tweet with the Yankee hurler.

Eventually I got Chamberlain to re-tweet me about the action. The Rangers were supposed to be going on a power play, and I asked him if he thought the Blueshirts could convert. But right after I tweeted the question, the referees reversed their decision and didn’t call a penalty.

“4-4. No PP.”

I can now put Chamberlain with Russell Martin on the list of Yankees who have replied to my tweets. Remember, if you want to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @AJ_Martelli.

Baseball Business on the Big Screen: A Review of “Moneyball”

Peter Brand:  It’s only been a few days. You have to give yourself some time to get over it.

Billy Beane:  I don’t get over these things. Ever.

After nearly beating the god-like New York Yankees in the 2001 American League Division Series, all hope seems to be lost for Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). He loses three of his key players to free agency – Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen – and is forced to rebuild the A’s.

Beane travels to Cleveland to discuss potential trades with the Indians’ General Manager when he discovers Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand is a player analyst whose opinion is valued by the Cleveland brass. Beane recognizes that and instead of gaining a player, buys Brand from the Indians and hires him as the assistant GM.

Together Beane and Brand use a philosophy no other team had ever utilized: signing players who are not necessarily power hitters, players who hit for average or players who rack up a great number of RBIs, but possess the ability to get on base.

They sign players who are on the downside of their careers, like David Justice, Jeremy Giambi, and Scott Hatteberg. Each of these players lack many of the tools needed to play the game, but have one thing in common: high on-base percentages.

Beane’s logic is simple: it doesn’t matter how you get on base. If you get on base, you’ll score runs. The strategy doesn’t sit too well with manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the two clash, disagreeing about necessary decisions such as who is in the lineup.

Although Oakland started the ’02 season slow, they eventually won 20 games in a row, setting an American League record for most consecutive wins in a single season.

The A’s overcome the odds and make the postseason, but get bumped in the first round for the second year in a row, this time by the Minnesota Twins. In the midst of the early playoff exit, the Red Sox recognize what Beane did in terms of building his team. Boston owner John Henry offers Beane a contract to be the highest paid General Manager in baseball history, which he declines.

Instead of going to the Red Sox, Beane opts to remain with the A’s, only for the Red Sox to win the World Series two years after he turned them down –  winning it all by using the philosophy Beane instituted in Oakland.

There are a few unique baseball movies out there, but “Moneyball” just might be the most unique. Based on a true story, it isn’t a coming of age flick like “The Sandlot” or a one last chance tale like “The Rookie.”

“Moneyball” is a movie that presents and exposes the business side of the game of baseball – a side of the game that isn’t always transparent to the average fan.

Right from the start of the movie you are taken into the corporate side of baseball when Beane goes to Cleveland to try and make immediate off-season moves. It really shows you how fast things happen when a baseball team’s season ends. Most people might get the impression that once the season is over the next time the team is worrying about anything is Spring Training.

That notion is quickly proved wrong right at the start of the movie.

Beane’s assistant Brand is based off Paul DePodesta, a savvy baseball expert who studied the game in and out and served as a catalyst in terms of changing the team. He enforced and supported building the A’s team by way of sabermetrics, which is defined as a system of analyzing baseball players by empirical evidence and specific in-game activity.

Bill James, a baseball writer and statistician, was “the man behind the curtain” so-to-speak, as he devised this crazy concept of sabermetrics. In fact, James wrote the book from which the movie is adapted. His ideas were was embraced by the Oakland General Manager. Beane knew exactly what he was hoping to accomplish and it shows throughout the movie.

One of the best and most relatable scenes in the movie to me was the scene that portrayed Brand breaking some potentially unsettling news to Carlos Pena. Beane had told his assistant that he might have to tell players they are cut or traded, as it comes with the job; a classic case of a boss making his employee do some not-so-fun work.

Ultimately Brand had to inform Pena that he had been traded to the Detroit Tigers.

Right as that scene concluded, I immediately thought of my internship with the Hudson Valley Renegades, a Single-A team affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays. I interned for them over the summer of 2010 and at times they would ask the interns to do some bizarre things.

One night the Renegades were playing the Jamestown Jammers, whose parent club is the Miami Marlins. One of the Jammers had been cut that day, but was still at the Stadium. He needed to be driven to the airport and they selected an intern (it wasn’t me) to give him a ride.

I saw a little bit of a parallel between the scene in the movie and the instance from my internship.

Something else I found interesting was the scene portraying the acquisition of reliever Ricardo Rincon. At the beginning of the movie when Beane is in Cleveland, he inquires about Rincon and expresses a sheer amount of interest in him. At the trade deadline the Indians are out of the playoff running. With the A’s still in contention and in need of a reliever, Beane gives the Tribe a call.

Cleveland refused to budge on a swap for Rincon citing interest from other teams, so Beane takes matters into his own hands. He orchestrates a ploy with some of the other General Managers and in the end lands the deal and acquires Rincon.

If I could take one still frame from the entire movie, it would be Brand’s reaction after he and Beane pulled off the trade. He looked like a little kid at Christmas, getting exactly what his heart desired.

What I also liked was how they threw in the little back story about Beane’s career as a player. He was drafted by the New York Mets out of high school, and instead of going to Stanford to play baseball on a full-ride scholarship he chose to sign with the Mets.

And it didn’t go well for Beane. At all.

His career was a flop and it kind of goes back to the idea of whether it’s smart to play in college or go right to the pros upon getting drafted. I’ve always had more respect for the ones that play in college. I feel you have a better chance at maturing as a player and as a person.

It certainly worked out for someone like Tino Martinez, who was drafted out of high school by the Red Sox, yet turned them down to play for the University of Tampa. He was drafted again by Seattle and eventually had a wonderful career.

At any rate, there are a few things I noticed while watching “Moneyball” that I was sort of able to nitpick at; things that didn’t make the movie any less enjoyable, but once I noticed them I picked them out.

For one, in the Ricardo Rincon trade scene, Brand is wearing an all-green Oakland A’s hat. The all-green hats, complete with black underneath the bill, weren’t introduced until 2007 when New Era released the polyester headwear to reduce sun glare. Up until then, grey was the color underneath the bill of the hat.

I only knew that because when the polyester caps were released (it should come as no shock) I purchased a Yankee hat.

In addition to the hat anachronism, the scene which portrays Beane at Fenway speaking to Henry caught my eye. Boston’s 2004 and 2007 championship banners are visible. The movie is taking place at the conclusion on the 2002 season, so the flags representing Boston’s titles shouldn’t be there.

At first I thought I had spotted another mistake, but as it turns out the director (Bennett Miller) got it right.

The scene in which the A’s were gunning for their 20th consecutive win, they are shown playing the Kansas City Royals at home. They show Mike Sweeney hit a towering drive to left field, homering to put the Royals within one run; KC eventually tying the game before the A’s picked up the 12-11 win on the power of a walk-off, solo home run off the bat of Hatteberg.

When Sweeney played, he wore a “C” on his jersey, denoting his status at team captain. In the movie Sweeney’s “C” was absent from the breast of his jersey, but it should have been. Upon research, he wasn’t named captain of the Royals until 2003.

I thought I had caught Miller on a mistake, but in the end he got me.

Overall I found “Moneyball” to be a riveting and informative movie. I wish I had seen it sooner than I had, but when it was in theaters last summer most of my friends went and saw it with their girlfriends. Naturally when I wanted to see it and asked my friends to go to the movies, I only heard the words,

“I already saw it with my girlfriend. It was really good, you should go see it.”

Yes, I should have gone to see it when it was in theaters. But I wasn’t going to the movies by myself.

Where’s the fun in that?

The Very Best of Jorge Posada

When Jorge Posada made his Major League Baseball debut on Sept. 4 1995, he got to Yankee Stadium early. The 24-year-old switch-hitting second baseman-turned-catcher walked from the clubhouse down the tunnel to the dugout to soak in what would become his home for the next 17 seasons.

Posada looked around at the majesty of Yankee Stadium. Tears of joy filled his eyes. In the years that followed he afforded the Yankees and their fans countless unforgettable moments, and basically became the Bronx Bombers’ unofficial co-captain.

A leader, a gamer, and one of the most intelligent and fiery Yankees to ever don the pinstripes, Posada, 40, is expected to announce his official retirement from baseball in the coming weeks. The Yankees will lose one of the “Key Three” members of their Championship Dynasty of the late 1990s.

Off the top of my head I can come up with a number of Posada’s best moments as a Yankee. Here are some of his most memorable achievements; a few of his accomplishments that made him such a special Yankee.

Breaking Out and a Perfect Day

Although Posada got the call to the show in 1995, he didn’t become a full-time player until later on in his career. In ’97 he replaced Jim Leyritz as backup catcher to current Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who was filling the position as the Yanks’ everyday backstop.

Posada started 52 games behind the plate in 1997 and played in a total of 60 games for the season. He only managed to smack six homers and knock in 25 runs for the season, but had a sort of “coming out party” in 1998.

An old baseball adage suggests that having a catcher that can hit is a bonus – and the Yankees had that bonus. At the plate Posada crushed 17 homers and batted .268 while recording 68 RBIs in ’98, but arguably his best feat of the year came defensively, on May, 17, 1998 when he caught David Wells’ perfect game at home against the Minnesota Twins.

When a pitcher throws a perfect game, sometimes it gets overlooked that the catcher is the one calling the signs, and most of the time the first person the pitcher credits after notching the perfecto is the catcher. It takes the battery of a pitcher and a catcher to complete a perfect game and Wells recognized that, rewarding Posada and the rest of the team with diamond rings when it was all said and done.

Before the Yanks moved into the new Stadium in 2009, Posada was asked what his favorite moment in the old Yankee Stadium was. His answer was simple.

“Catching David Wells’ perfect game was probably (the best moment) for me. It was just a day that…nothing went wrong. We were in sync from the get-go. He had a bad bullpen session but he got stronger and stronger as the game went along. I get chills, still.”

A Sweet Moment before the ‘02 All-Star Game

Posada and the Yanks capped 1998 with a World Series title, their second in three years. In ’99 he appeared in 112 games and hit 12 homers, knocked in 58 runs, and averaged .245 at the plate. The Yankees once again won a World Series title in ’99 and again in 2000 – which to that point was Posada’s best year numerically: 28 homers, 86 RBIs, and a BA of .287.

For his outstanding numbers he was selected to his first of five All-Star games in the year 2000. In 2002 Posada started the Midsummer Classic and during player introductions a Posada took the field – but it wasn’t Jorge.

Well, it was, actually. Posada’s son Jorge Luis, who has craniosynostosis (a bone condition which affects the skull of an infant), dashed out onto the baseball diamond when Posada’s name was called. The short man was playfully wrangled by Yankee nemesis and then-Red Sox player Manny Ramirez, who presented Jorge Luis to his proud father.

You Talkin’ to Me, Pedro?

Posada pieced together one of his best seasons in 2003, clubbing 30 homers to become only the second Yankee catcher along with Yogi Berra to ever hit 30 home runs in a season.

He also drove in 101 runs, batted .281, and scored 83 runs. At the end of the year he finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting, showing just how important he was to his team.

But all of that was basically overshadowed by the biggest rivalry in sports.

In ’03 the Yankees and their archenemies, the Boston Red Sox, played in some heated games. Over the summer Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano were beaned with fastballs by the hated Boston ace Pedro Martinez. Roger Clemens, the Yanks’ outspoken number one hurler, plunked Kevin Millar in retaliation.

As fate would have it, the Yankees and Red Sox met in the 2003 American League Championship Series; the winner would go to the World Series. Both squads were not shy about their feelings towards one another, as they exchanged words in the media. You couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on ESPN without hearing what the Yanks and BoSox were saying about each other.  

The ALCS was tied 1-1 and with tensions running high, all Hell broke loose in Game Three.

Yankees’ right fielder Karim Garcia was hit on the back by what looked like an intentional bean ball thrown by Martinez. Garcia didn’t take kindly to Martinez’s throw – and neither did Posada, who began to mouth off to Martinez from the dugout.

Some serious jaw-jacking ensued between Martinez and Posada, and eventually Martinez began to make seemingly threatening gestures at Posada from the mound. He put his index finger to his temple as if he was saying to the Yankee catcher, “I’ll hit you in the head.”

Things settled down and the game resumed after awhile, only for another fracas to begin in the next half-inning. Clemens threw a pitch high and tight to Ramirez; clearly no intent, yet the Boston left fielder tried to charge the mound and the benches cleared.

Don Zimmer, the Yanks’ 72-year-old bench coach, was tossed to the ground by Martinez in the brawl, proving just how ugly emotions between the two teams really were.

The ’03 ALCS was forced to a Game Seven, and with the Yankees trailing 5-2 in the eighth inning, it looked as though it was Boston’s time to “reverse the curse.”

But after a single by Bernie Williams that scored Derek Jeter, and a ground-rule double by Hideki Matsui, Posada stepped up to the plate in a huge situation: runners on second and third with one out.

And he was as clutch as can be.

Posada popped a blooper into shallow centerfield, a hit which no Boston outfielder or infielder could come up with. Williams and Matsui came to the plate to tie the game while he wound up on second base. Fired up, Posada clapped his hands together and pumped his fists in jubilation.

The game-tying bloop double set up Aaron Boone’s glorious home run in the bottom of the 11th, sending the Yankees to the World Series for the 39th time and the Red Sox home for the winter.

If it weren’t for Posada’s gritty, “never say die” attitude and his piece of late-game clutch hitting, Boone never would have had the chance to swing his bat in the 11th; the Yankees may have been doomed in the ‘03 ALCS.

As far as the Martinez-Posada feud: the two publicly expressed how they felt about one another: they both said they disliked each other.  However aside from the argument in the ’03 ALCS, nothing physical ever transpired between the two.

Unless you count the four career home runs Posada hit off Martinez.

On a side note, over the course of his career Posada hit 275 home runs. The most he smacked off a single pitcher: five off another Red Sox hurler, Tim Wakefield.

A Wild and Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas

On Wednesday May 17, 2006 – exactly eight years after Posada caught Wells’ perfect game – I got up and went to class. Nearing the end of my first year in college, I was amazed at what I had seen the night before. Everyone knew what a huge Yankee fan I was, and when I got to class I was asked the age-old question from one of my classmates:

“Did you see the game last night?!”

Of course I had. It was one of the most improbable and incredible comebacks ever.

On May 16, 2006 the Yankees had been getting creamed by the Texas Rangers at home. In fact, through the first two and a half innings the Bombers were losing 10-1. But they never gave up, slowly chipping away at the deficit. The Yanks were able to knot the game at 12 before the ninth inning, only for Texas to plate a run on a Rod Barajas double and take a 13-12 lead going into the Yanks’ final set of at-bats.

When it looked as though the rally was for naught, Posada clubbed a game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth off Rangers’ closer Akinori Otsuka to complete the comeback and give the Yankees a serious come-from-behind, 14-13 win.

Posada drove in five of the Yanks’ 14 runs and also showed off his strength, as he survived a collision at home plate with future teammate Mark Teixeira. Posada nailed Teixeira at home plate for an out, but after the game admitted it was the hardest he had ever been hit.

“I never played football in my life,” Posada told the press after the game.

 “But I think that’s what it feels like.”

2007 Resurgence

 

One could argue that by age 35 most catchers are reaching the so-called “downhill side” of their careers. Their offensive numbers seem to dwindle and they just aren’t the same players they were at, let’s say, age 25.

That never happened to the Yankee catcher.

In 2007 Posada recorded the highest batting average of his career, securing a BA of .338. He also posted the highest slugging percentage of his career with .543 and for the first time since 2003 he made the All-Star team.

The rest of his numbers also looked solid: 20 homers, 90 RBIs, 91 runs scored, 42 doubles, and he even stole two bases.

With his ’07 power show he became the first catcher in MLB history to average .330 or better, record at least 40 doubles, hit 20 homers, and knock in at least 90 runs in a single season.

2007 was a renaissance year for the backstop, and you might say Posada turned 35 into the new 25.

Even the Red Sox Want to be Yankees

In a little comic relief, Posada starred in an ESPN commercial with hated Yankee killer David Ortiz.

When I first saw this, I couldn’t get enough of it.

The First Home Run

After the 2008 season wrapped, the Yanks moved from their beloved cathedral to their new house across the street. They started the 2009 season on the road, but on April 16 it was time for Opening Day in the new ballpark in the Bronx vs. the Cleveland Indians – and it was a day of firsts.

Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the old Yankee Stadium, and in the fifth inning Posada became the first player to homer in the new Yankee Stadium. He took a pitch off Cliff Lee deep to centerfield, a poetically just shot that landed in the netting above Ruth’s monument.

Unfortunately the Yanks had a bad day, dropping their first game at home 10-2. After the game Posada was proud to have done what Ruth did in terms of christening the ballpark, but was unhappy with the final score.

“I’m going to remember the home run, no question about it,” he told the press. “But right now it’s a little disappointing.”

Yankee manager Joe Girardi could not have been happier that his successor was the first player to homer in the new Stadium.

“For Jorgie to hit the first home run…he’s been here a long time and he’s meant a lot to this franchise. I was extremely happy for him.”   

2009 Walk-Offs

Resiliency (noun) –  the ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, change or misfortune.

Resilient (adjective) – the ability to withstand, or recover quickly from, difficult conditions.

There is no better way to define the 2009 New York Yankees.

‘09 was a magical season for the Bombers. Solid pitching, all-around hitting, and if the score was close late in the game, you could almost be certain the Yankees were going to win.

The Yanks played the LA Angels at home on May 1, and squandered away a 4-0 lead when the Halos plated six runs in the sixth. They added three in the seventh and it seemed as though the Yankees were well on their way to an inevitable loss to the Angels, the only team in baseball with a lifetime winning record against the Bombers.

Not on Posada’s watch.

The Empire struck back in the eighth scoring four runs, setting the stage for one of their many comeback victories. Posada came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with Teixeira and Angel Berroa aboard, and whacked a two-run game-winning single to finish the game, his first walk-off hit of the year.

When it was all said and done teammate A.J. Burnett gave Posada a whipped cream pie to the face, a tradition that became custom after every walk-off Yankee victory.

And there were more pie orders to fill.  

On July 4 the Yanks hosted the Toronto Blue Jays and played them to a 5-5 tie into extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th Posada came up and singled home Alex Rodriguez, giving the Yanks a 6-5 walk-off win on America’s (and George Steinbrenner’s) birthday.

Another win, another pie.

The game-winner may have been huge but it wasn’t all Posada did in that game. In the fourth he smacked a solo round-tripper, which at that point in the game gave the Yanks a 3-2 lift over the Jays.

A Cushion in Game Two

The Yankees’ resilient nature brought them to the World Series in 2009 for the 40th time and the first time since 2003. They squared off with the Philadelphia Phillies and in Game Two (after dropping the first game of the Fall Classic) the Bombers needed a win at home.

Facing a familiar adversary, Pedro Martinez, the Yanks trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth. Teixeira came up and knotted the game at one with a solo homer. Hideki Matsui followed suit, breaking the tie with a solo home run of his own in the sixth.

Clinging to a small 2-1 lead in the seventh, Posada gave the Yanks a little breathing room. He hit a seeing-eye single off reliever Chan Ho Park to plate Jerry Hairston, Jr. and the Yanks went ahead, 3-1.

They would win Game Two by the same count.

The Texas Two-Step

In June of 2010 Posada had a chance to flex his muscles.

On June 12 in an interleague matchup at home vs. the Houston Astros, he clubbed a grand slam off Wandy Rodriguez in the bottom of the third, breaking a 2-2 tie to give the Yanks a 6-2 lead. They went on to win 9-3 on the strength of Posada’s go-ahead trip to granny’s house.

And he was just getting warmed up.

The very next day, June 13, he crushed another grand slam in the fifth inning off Brian Moehler, giving his team a sizeable 7-1 lead. The Bombers once again were en route to another win, a 9-5 decision over the Astros.

With his two slams in two days, Posada became the first Yankee since Bill Dickey in 1937 to homer with the bases loaded in consecutive games. Ironically enough, Dickey was also a catcher.

A Bittersweet Home Run

On Aug. 22, 2010 vs. the Seattle Mariners at home, the Yankees practically had the game won in the fourth inning. Austin Kearns hit a solo homer in the fourth, which was pretty much all the offense the Bombers needed because CC Sabathia was in shut-down mode, setting down the Mariners hitters one by one.

The game turned into a stinker for Seattle in the fifth when Robinson Cano clubbed a grand slam. The Yanks added three runs in the sixth to distance themselves even further from Seattle, who did not put up any runs in the game.

The Mariners eventually called on Brian Sweeney, a relief pitcher whom I have interviewed, in a mop-up situation.

Posada came to the plate to face Sweeney and took his changeup for a ride into the right field seats, giving the Yankees a 9-0 lead. The Bombers would add another run in the eighth on an RBI single off the bat of Marcus Thames, winning by a knockout score of 10-0.

For this writer it was bittersweet. I was happy for Posada; that he hit a home run for my favorite team, yet at the same time I was unhappy and I felt bad. I would have liked to see Sweeney maybe get a strikeout, being that he and I both came from the same college.

From the experience, I can say this: it feels weird wanting to simultaneously root for both the pitcher and the batter.  

The Last Stand

2011 was a rollercoaster of sorts for Posada. There were ups and downs, lefts and rights. He was removed as the Yanks’ everyday catcher and made to be the team’s designated hitter. Everyone knows about the mountain made of the molehill when he took himself out of the game on May 14 against the Boston Red Sox, and he was limited at best when it came to playing.

On Aug. 13, his first start since the benching incident, he was 3-for-5 with a grand slam and six RBIs. It marked the 10th slam of his career and with it he passed Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra on the all-time Yankee grand slams list.

Later in the month on Aug. 25 Posada played second base for the first time in his career, fielding the position in the ninth inning. He recorded the final out in the Yanks’ 22-9 win over the Oakland Athletics, cleanly taking a grounder and completing the 4-3 putout.

He might have had a perfect frame at second base, but on Sept. 10 against the LA Angels he returned to familiarity. Russell Martin was injured behind the plate by a foul tip and Francisco Cervelli was unavailable to catch due to concussion-like symptoms. Girardi had no choice but to allow Posada to catch – and he made it count, throwing out Howie Kendrick attempting to swipe second base in the third.

The Yankees made the postseason for the 16th time in Posada’s career and for his last playoff series, he performed extraordinarily well. He recorded six hits – one of which was a triple – scored four runs, drew four walks, and at the DH position notched a .429 batting average with a .579 on-base percentage.

Not bad for his last hurrah.

The Yankees and their fans will never forget Jorge Posada. He spent his entire career in pinstripes, somewhat of a rarity these days; not a lot of players in this day and age remain with one team their entire career.

Girardi, who has always been close to Posada, credits him for a lot of the strength the Yankees showcased throughout the years.

“He’s been a big part of the Yankees since really 1997, and (a big part of) the success that we’ve had here.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Friend and teammate Derek Jeter once said Posada would make a great baseball manager someday.

Who knows. Posada succeeded Girardi once in his life – as the Yankees’ everyday catcher. Maybe in the future he will succeed him as Yankee skipper.

I’m not going to try and argue right now about whether or not Posada is worthy of the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t matter to me; whether he makes the Hall of Fame or not, he’ll always be a real Yankee soldier in my eyes.

Yankee Yapping would like to thank Jorge Posada for all the memories and congratulate him on a wonderful career. I don’t know if the team will be the same without him, but nonetheless, we love him.

THANK YOU, JORGE.

True Colors: Athletes and Expression of Self

Famed martial artist and actor Bruce Lee once said, “Always be yourself, express yourself, and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

One could say any professional athlete is successful at what they do. If they were not, they wouldn’t be where they are. Whether it is starting shortstop for the New York Yankees or starting quarterback for the New York Giants, pro athletes are where they are because of their capabilities.

But what about their personalities? Should they be allowed to express themselves on the field after they accomplish something or reach an achievement?

A lot of critics these days are saying no.

When Joba Chamberlain was first called up in the summer of 2007, he was a flame-throwing middle reliever who tossed fastballs clocked in the high-90s and he sometimes struck triple digits on the speed gun. Usually after he fanned a batter to end an inning Chamberlain would wildly pump his fists in pride as he gleefully marched off the mound.

     

Fist pumping is defined as, “A celebratory gesture in which a fist is raised before the torso and subsequently drawn down and nearer to the body in a vigorous, swift motion.

The fist pump is sometimes carried out in parts of the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Japan (where it is known as guts pose) to denote enthusiasm, exuberance, or success and may be accompanied by a similarly energetic exclamation or vociferation. The gesture may be executed once or in a rapid series.”

Knowing that, a big strikeout can call for a little fist pumping.  So why exactly did critics jump all over Chamberlain and call him on his jubilation, turning his joy into a topic of debate?

Some analysts and sports pundits suggest that getting overly excited and expressing it is a way of “showing up the other team” or in other words rubbing it in their faces after they have failed to some capacity.

I don’t happen to see it that way. I see it as a player simply being honest and outwardly showing how they truly feel after they have done something noteworthy.

And it can work both ways. When a player is on the other end of it – losing – should they be allowed to express it?

I think so.

Think back for a moment to Oct. 16, 2003: Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, otherwise known as the famous “Aaron Boone game.”

When Boone crushed that home run in the 11th inning sending the Yankees to the World Series – and broke the hearts of every fan in New England – the Red Sox were, for the lack of a better term, crushed. I specifically remember the reaction of one Boston player, namely outfielder Trot Nixon.

On his way to the clubhouse, Nixon took his frustration out on a Gatorade cooler, picking it up and then slamming it to the dugout floor in what looked like unadulterated anger.

Nixon and every other Red Sox player were well within their rights to be frustrated in terms of the outcome of that game and the series overall – and they had the right to express that frustration after it was all over.

These days expression in sports has gone to a new level. Looking outside the world of baseball for a minute, ESPN and every other form of sports media seem to be on the case of a young quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow.

After the Denver Broncos’ stud scores a touchdown, or when his team wins, he takes a knee, bows his head and offers a prayer of thanksgiving to God. In fact, the pose has taken on a life of its own and people have turned it into a verb: “Tebowing.”

Everyone and their mother has put Tebow under the microscope and criticized him for this particular pose after a TD or a win. Tebow let it be known when he played football at the University of Florida that he lives his life a certain way (I.E. he has chosen to remain chaste until he gets married) and strongly holds onto what he believes in.

Is it wrong of him to show it when he does something good?

In my view, no. I think it is perfectly fine.

If Tebow feels taking a knee and praying is how he wants to express his happiness when his team wins, I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, I view it as a more civil way to show a good feeling when something positive happens.

A lot of people have made claims that, because it’s a sort of religious action, it’s wrong and should not be permitted. But it’s not as if Tebow is constantly projecting his beliefs onto other people; he isn’t standing on the sideline with a microphone in hand and trying to get every fan who attended the game to convert to Christianity.

If that were the case I’d be opposed to it – and probably feel Tebow is out of his mind.

What I find strange about the criticism of Tebow expressing his faith is that other athletes also express their faith – yet nothing is said about it, or even mentioned.

Before Derek Jeter steps into the batter’s box, he makes the sign of the cross. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, a one-time Yankee and journeyman catcher always makes the sign of the cross; as a matter of fact, he crosses himself before every pitch during his at-bats.

Where is the barrage of criticism and religious outrage directed at Jeter and Pudge?

Nowhere to be found. It just doesn’t sound very fair to me.

All Tebow is doing is expressing his true personality and incorporating it into what he loves to do – just as I incorporate my personality sometimes when I write these blog entries, with funny inside jokes and obscure references.

As good as it for an athlete to show off their personality, it can get out of hand. It doesn’t happen so much in baseball, but in football and other sports it can certainly be brought to a whole new level. The NFL has banned touchdown celebrations, and if a player crosses the plane, scores, and expresses it, that player’s team will be penalized.

In my view, that’s fair. It’s fine for a player to be happy, and to express that positive energy when they score a touchdown; maybe leap up and bump their teammates’ chests. But spiking the ball and dancing around just makes the player look like a fool, and the NFL did the right thing by outlawing such unprofessionalism.

Perhaps in football things are a little different because there is more contact and physicality; maybe more “heat of the moment” moments. But that’s not to say it hasn’t happened in baseball.

In 2007 former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon began to exhibit a different side of himself when he Irish step danced at the conclusion of the American League Championship Series. After Boston defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games, Papelbon danced around the Fenway Park infield like a loon celebrating the win.

There was no need for that. It’s fine to be happy and celebrate a pennant, but do it in the clubhouse with your teammates. There is no reason to run back out onto the field and commence dancing like a ballerina.  

The bottom line is, it’s fine to express yourself as an athlete. Be creative and be yourself; incorporate your personality into your playing style and do it in a respectful, professional manner.

If you’re excited, pump your fists.

If you’re mad, body slam a cooler or two.

If you have a certain belief system, feel free to show it, without projecting it onto to others.

If you want to dance though, become a Rockette not an athlete.

It’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve.

Nova Not AL ROY, Finishes Fourth

Today Major League Baseball announced the American and National League Rookie of the Year Award winners. Atlanta Braves’ closer Craig Kimbrel captured the N.L. award, winning unanimously with all 32 first-place votes.

The A.L. ROY went to starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays, as he received 17 first-place votes. Mark Trumbo of the Los Angeles Angels came in second place and Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals finished third.

Ivan Nova, who most Yankee fans expected to be the first Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996, finished in fourth place with just one first-place vote.

Cue the anger and confusion among the pinstripe faithful.

Truthfully, any one of the top four A.L. ROY finishers could have taken home the accolade. Hellickson, Trumbo, Hosmer and Nova each had seasons worthy of the award.

Since the last two A.L. Rookie of the Year awards have gone to pitchers (Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010) I had the feeling either Hellickson or Nova would win this year – keeping the trend of pitchers winning the A.L. ROY.

Naturally I felt Trumbo (left field, first base) and Hosmer (first base) weren’t going to win – although each of them put up outstanding offensive numbers for rookies. Trumbo clubbed 29 homers and knocked in 87 runs, despite sporting a .254 batting average. Meanwhile Hosmer smacked 19 home runs and drove in 78 runs, nearly hitting .300 with a BA of .293.

But as expected, the pitching trend kept up.

Hellickson made 29 starts for the Rays and went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 189 innings pitched. His won-loss record may not have been indicative of an overpowering season. Yet serving as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, Hellickson helped the Rays in a major way – especially considering they had traded away Matt Garza, a hurler the Rays thought to be a front-line starter, at the beginning of the year.

Nova struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season. He got shelled and lost some tough games in the early-going, but found a way to persevere and endure, grinding his way to a 16-4 record in 28 starts. He finished with an ERA of 3.70 and notched 98 strikeouts in 165.1 innings pitched.

Looking at overall individual stats – minus the record – Hellickson did have a numerically stronger year. Plus, that brief period when Nova was sent down to the minors in July probably hurt his chances at the ROY.

Yet, look at Nova and how he evolved throughout the course of the season; how he was slated to be a number four starter and was basically forced to become a number two when Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett faltered.

Nova was forced to “carry the ball” so-to-speak, and he carried it very well.

Last week About.com published an article revealing who should win each end-of-the-year award, who the dark horses were, and who they thought would win. Not only did this article say Nova should win – but it said he would win.

“Who should win Rookie of the Year: Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees.  

The 24-year-old Dominican righty finished 16-4, and did it while filling a gaping hole in the rotation of one of the best teams in the league. His ERA is just a so-so 3.70, but has a 2.7 WAR, which is solid in a relatively weak crop of rookies, at least statistically this season.

Who will win Rookie of the Year: Nova. Being in the big market will put him over the top.”

The author of that article seemed to have a lot of faith in the Yankee rookie – and not that I pay that much attention to WAR, or wins above replacement, but it was a good point – one I didn’t even take into consideration.

Those who vote for the end-of-the-year awards, AKA the baseball writers, clearly recognized Nova for his effort and what he brought to the Yankees – but in a lot of the fans’ minds, they did not recognize it enough because he didn’t finish first.

Lately the Yankee fans seemingly have a lot to be upset about when it comes to these awards after every season. Last year many felt CC Sabathia – who won 21 games – was robbed of the A.L. Cy Young when Felix Hernandez, who only won 13 games, captured the award over the Yankee ace.

What’s more, Robinson Cano was a front-runner to take home the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2010, but he came in third to Josh Hamilton (the winner) and Miguel Cabrera (first runner-up). I know of more than one Yankee fan who truly felt Cano was, in a word, “shafted.”

The last Yankee to collect a meaningful end-of -the-year accolade: Alex Rodriguez, when he won the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2007. To get there, A-Rod had to crush 54 homers, bat .314, and drive in 156 runs.

It’s a little obvious by now the writers who vote for the awards aren’t exactly Yankee lovers, and the media has apparently become somewhat “anti-pinstripe.” Cano and Curtis Granderson are two Yankees that can easily be considered for this year’s A.L. MVP, which will be announced a week from today on Nov. 21.

Now that Nova did not win Rookie of the Year, I don’t expect either Yankee to win the award.

Sabathia is up again for the Cy Young with his 19 wins this season and 3.00 ERA – but forget it. Everyone already knows Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers is taking home that piece of hardware.

The Yankees may have run out of luck this year when it came to the awards. Like it or not, the media is not on the Yanks’ side and ultimately they choose who goes home with the trophies.

If I ever make the Baseball Writer’s Association I promise to be fair and unbiased, as all writers should be. If I were voting this year, I probably would have given Nova a first-place vote, simply because he was valuable to the Yankees – and you can’t argue that. Just look at the points made in the About.com article.

Just know that if I ever get to the BBWA, there will be at least one writer who doesn’t hate the Yankees on the voting panel – although I would maintain my professional integrity as a reporter and consider every candidate respectfully.

As a Yankee fan though, I can only hope next year Jesus Montero breaks out and has the year of his life. If he can get his game up and have a “coming out party” of sorts in 2012, he can avenge this rather unfair treatment of Nova in this year’s A.L. Rookie of the Year voting – at least unfair in the minds of the majority of the Yankee fans.

On second thought, if I did have a vote this year, I would have voted for this guy

Just kidding, just kidding.

What I’ll Remember About the 2011 Season

Casey Stengel once said, “Most games are lost, not won.” And let’s be honest the Detroit Tigers did not win Game Five of the American League Division Series – the Yankees lost it. The Bronx Bombers dropped the decisive game of the ALDS 3-2, forcing them to an early postseason exit.

It marked the first time the Yanks have been knocked out in the first round since 2007, when they were bumped at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.

And with their loss, they collectively became the second person (if you will) to break my heart this year. That’s no lie. More on that later in this entry.

In the bottom of the fourth the Yanks had the bases loaded with one out and failed to score a run. Russell Martin popped out to first base for the second out, and Brett Gardner – who had been raking this entire series – popped the ball up in foul territory behind third, and it landed in the waiting glove of Don Kelly.

Then in the seventh with one out, the Yanks put the ducks on the pond again. Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging, but Mark Teixeira drew a walk forcing home a run to make the game 3-2. But Nick Swisher came up to the plate and murdered the rally with a K.

The Yankees received their first run on a solo home run off the bat of Robinson Cano in the fifth, his second of the ALDS  – his first being a Game One  grand slam. Derek Jeter nearly clubbed what would have been a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth.

With Gardner on first, the Captain launched a ball deep to the right field warning track, but it slowly lost wind and fell short of a potential game-winning round-tripper.

What can you say? It just wasn’t meant to be this year.

The Tigers – not the Yankees – will now advance to the American League Championship Series to face the Texas Rangers. A rematch of last year’s ALCS was just not in the cards.

The postseason magic was not there; the aura was absent. But there are a lot of memories and thoughts I am going to take away from this year. Here are a few things I’ll never forget about the 2011 baseball season:

Opening Day

There is nothing like the thrill of Opening Day. Spring is in the air, you get the sense of new life, and warm, happy feelings envelope you. Baseball is back and the Yankees did what they couldn’t do in the ALDS: they beat the Tigers.

Curtis Granderson punished his former team with a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning, and threw in some defensive, game-saving web gems, leading the way to a 6-3 Yankee win over Detroit.

The Bronx Broskis started their year with a clean win over the Tigers. I think I speak for most Yankee fans when I say I wish they could have finished off Detroit in the ALDS the way they did on Opening Day.

May 12 vs. the Kansas City Royals

The Yanks hosted the Royals on May 12, and it was my first trip to the big ballpark in the Bronx this year. Just as Opening Day has a certain, special appeal to it, going out to your first game of the season is always fun.

The game turned into a stinker in a hurry, as the Royals put up six runs in the second inning. The Yanks wound up losing 11-5, really only receiving offense from Cano and Rodriguez, who both went yard.

What I remember isn’t so much the game action, but the people (and more particularly a person) I was with at that game. I am not the type of writer who would bury anyone I personally know in this or any other blog or column, but let’s just say (using no names) I was with the other person who broke my heart this year.

If she is reading this, I don’t know about you, but I had a blast at that game; the time of my life, and I was very happy and blessed to have spent that time with you. Thanks again for the chili dog you bought me, too.  I still think it was the best chili dog I ever had. :)

This game was the only time I can ever recall seeing the Yankees lose, but still being happy at the end of the night. In fact, I was probably the happiest person at the Stadium that night, and I can only hope she shared my happiness at the game.

I wouldn’t have traded the feeling I had for anything, not even a Yankee win.

June 15 vs. the Texas Rangers

On my birthday the Yankees met up with the Rangers – the same team that eliminated them from the ALCS in 2010. I once again went out to the Stadium, and wanted so badly for the Yanks to exact a little bit of revenge on Texas – and boy did they ever.

The Bombers squadoosh’d the Rangers 12-4, playing long ball to an eight-run victory.

Teixeira crushed two homers in the game, and Cano and Ramiro Pena also went deep. But the most special home run the Yankees hit probably came off the bat of Eduardo Nunez – it was his 24th birthday too!

A group of people, who I believe was Nunez’s family, were sitting in front of me, going absolutely crazy after his home run.

They held up signs that read, “Happy Birthday Eduardo!” and they were all wearing “Nunez 12” tee-shirts. Plus, they all bore a striking resemblance to him – so I’m convinced to this day it was the Nunez family in the row of seats in front of me that night.

A home run must have been a nice birthday present for Nunez. And a convincing, vengeful Yankee win was a nice gift for me.

Derek Jeter Leaves the Yard for 3,000th Hit

In what was probably the biggest story of the summer, the Yankee Captain, sitting on 2,999 career hits, smacked a home run on July 9, becoming the first player to ever record his 3,000th hit wearing pinstripes.

It was a moment for the ages.

All the Yankees came out of the dugout and congratulated Jeter, hugging him and giving him his legendary credit. The only picture I take away from that moment was Jorge Posada, his teammate since 1995, embracing him in celebration right after he crossed home plate.

If you were to ask Jeter, I’m sure he would say he was happy to have reached his milestone – but even happier the Yankees won the game. The Captain has always put the good of the team above himself and the Bombers topped the Tampa Bay Rays on July 9, 5-4.

Robinson Cano Wins the Home Run Derby

The prelude to the All-Star Game is the Home Run Derby. Certain clubs show off their most powerful sluggers, and Cano participated in this year’s home run contest in Arizona. To everyone’s surprise, the studly second baseman won it.

Now, I have to ask, what’s better than having a Yankee win the Home Run Derby?

How about a Yankee beating a Red Sox player to win the Home Run Derby!

Because that is exactly what happened.

Cano outdueled Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez 12-11 in the final round, becoming only the third Yankee (Tino Martinez, 1997, and Jason Giambi, 2002) to take home the Home Run Derby crown.

August 23 vs. the Oakland Athletics

 

This would mark my third and final trip to the Bronx this summer, a game against the A’s. My good friend and fellow die-hard Yankee fan Micheal Robinson was in New York, visiting from Atlanta.   

He got incredible seats right behind the wall in left field, and although the Yankees once again lost, they nearly capped an unreal comeback late in the game.

Down 6-0 entering the bottom of the eighth, the Yanks plated three runs on a three-run Swisher home run to cut the lead in half. In the bottom of the ninth Posada clobbered a solo home run, and the Yanks later loaded the bases.

We thought we were in for an improbable comeback.

With the bases chucked and two outs, Cano drew a walk, cutting the lead down to 6-5. Then Swisher came up again and clubbed a towering drive to deep left-center field. On the edge of our seats, Micheal and I slowly stood up watching the ball fly, ready for a whipped cream pie celebration…

Only for the ball to slowly die on the warning track for the final out. Yanks lose, 6-5.  

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the game. It was a great night with a great friend. My record in attendance at 2011 Yankee games ended at 1-2.

 

Mariano Rivera Becomes Baseball’s All-Time Saves Leader

On Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium Mariano Rivera recorded his 602nd career save, passing Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list. Rivera, who has been lights-out at the end of each Yankee game for the better part of the past 15 years, only solidified what we have known all along:

That he is the greatest closer in the history of baseball.

In typical Rivera fashion, he mowed down the Minnesota Twins 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, wrapping up a 6-4 Yankee win. When he was finished closing the game, he humbly put his head down, and shook his catcher’s hand.

But after that show of sportsmanship Rivera (of course) realized what he had done and acknowledged the love and support he received from his home crowd. Posada even pushed him back out to the mound where he was cheered overwhelmingly.

Again, in typical Rivera fashion he thanked God, his family, the Yankees, and the fans.

It was just another wonderful moment in 2011 – and in Yankee history.

Boston Losing Out of the Postseason

I know I’ve told this story more than once, but for one last time, I’ll tell it again.

All the way back in January I was with a few friends down at a New York City bar watching the Jets’ AFC Title game vs. the Steelers. Although it was a football game, me and each of my friends were wearing Yankee apparel.

In walks a drunken Red Sox fan, wearing a 2004 Championship shirt. And he began to taunt us.

“Are you guys ready for Michael Kay this year? Swisher on the track, at the wall, looking up, SEE YA! Another home run for Carl Crawford and the Red Sox lead, 7-3!”

We just laughed it off and walked away. On the way home from the bar we made fun of him for not even teasing us the right way.

“Hey, at least he gave the Yankees three runs in his little fantasy game,” we snickered. “If he were smart, or maybe sober, he would have made it 15-0 in favor of the Red Sox.”

Boston failing to make the postseason – when practically everyone on this planet had them picked to win the World Series – in my eyes, was just epic; one of the worst, if not the worst collapses I have ever seen.

I would have loved to see that guy’s face when Tampa Bay battled back from nine games behind the Wild Card standings – and when Baltimore crushed Boston’s hopes at a postseason run on the last day of the regular season.

Unbelievable.  

I will never forget how that Red Sox fan basically had his team in the World Series before the season even began and they didn’t even make the playoffs, going 6-20 in the month of September.

The Boston collapse proved two things to me:

1)      You can never speak too soon, and

2)      You can’t win games on paper. The Red Sox may have had the best-looking team on a lineup card, but if the best-looking team folds like an accordion when it matters, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Well, Yankee fans. It was one helluva season; one I’ll probably never forget. It is unfortunate the Yanks could not create the magic for us and bring home Championship No. 28.

I’d like to thank everyone for sticking it out this season and reading Yankee Yapping. I promise to write as much as I can during the off-season while the MLB hot stove cooks, boils, bakes, burns, or does whatever it does.

Hopefully I’ll be blogging about Ivan Nova winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and either Granderson or Cano winning the AL MVP.

Until then, I’ll say the same thing I did when the Yanks got booted in last year’s ALCS:

Keep your heads up, Yankee fans.

And just remember: we still own 27 World Titles, and we’re still the best team in the world.

Back to the Bronx!

Let me tell you a little about my day, and in what direction I thought it was going in.

This afternoon I was in my car, driving of course. I was stopped at a traffic light, minding my own business. Then…BOOM! I got rear-ended by some lady who was not paying attention to the road. Thankfully my bumper was only scratched: not really any major damage to my (new) car. Oh, and if you’re wondering, no. I wasn’t hurt; just a little rattled at the time, although I did have a mild headache when I got home from work.

People, driving requires 100% of your attention. Remember that.

I only thought my headache was going to get more severe, considering A.J. Burnett was starting for the Yankees in Game Four of the American League Division Series, down two games to one, at the mercy of the Detroit Tigers. I’ll be the first to admit, I felt very uneasy with Burnett on the mound, an 11-11 record this season with a 5.15 ERA.

His numbers alone are enough to give anyone a headache, even without getting rear-ended by a car.

Some Yankee fans, most notably Yankee roll caller and lead Bleacher Creature Bald Vinny, started a Facebook campaign: “I Believe in A.J.” Despite the doubt a lot of people had concerning Burnett’s ability to pitch in an elimination game, it is evident the fans got behind him.

All the faith was rewarded.

Aside from one inning, he didn’t disappoint. Burnett helped lead the way to a 10-1 Yankee win in Game Four, forcing a Game Five on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

The key play in the game came in the bottom of the first inning. The Tigers loaded the bases with two outs, and Don Kelly smacked a liner into centerfield. Curtis Granderson dove, laid out and made a game-saving grab to end the inning.

Burnett owes his centerfielder dinner after a catch like that.

Had the ball gone over Granderson’s head, anything could – and would – have happened. Kelly would have definitely cleared the bases and he would have undoubtedly made it to third – or even home. In perspective, it could have been an inside-the-park grand slam, and Burnett’s confidence may have disappeared, allowing Detroit to run up the score.  

But it didn’t happen.

Burnett had walked three batters in the first (Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally) and looked a bit jittery, but seemed to settle down nicely after the shaky frame. He ended the night with 5 2/3 innings pitched, and he gave up just one earned run on four hits. Burnett walked four batters and struck out three.

The only blip on Burnett’s radar was a home run to Victor Martinez in the bottom of the fourth, and yet it didn’t really matter because the Yankees had already put two runs on the board.  

When Burnett left the mound, he got a lot of love from his teammates. I’d say if you took one still frame from the game tonight, the picture of the infield players collectively patting Burnett on the back speaks volumes about the amount faith they had in him.

After Burnett left, yesterday’s goat Rafael Soriano came in – and Granderson once again flashed the leather, making another beautiful catch in centerfield to end the inning. Not only did Granderson save Burnett, but he aided Soriano with a spectacular web gem.

The pitching and defense was there, but you need offense to win a game. And the Bomber bats came alive in this one.

The Yankees were retired 1-2-3 in the first and second innings – and it looked as though it was going to be another stagnant and dead night at the plate. But right before Derek Jeter stepped into the batter’s box, I put on my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles slippers.

Right after I put them on the Captain crushed a two-run double to plate Jorge Posada and Russell Martin. The Yankees took the lead and never relinquished it.

“I think my slippers may have been the Yanks’ good luck charm,” I thought to myself. “I’ll keep them on.”

If they were a good luck charm, they were working in the top half of the fifth. The Yanks added two more runs on a double by Granderson which knocked in Brett Gardner. Alex Rodriguez later hit a sac fly to drive in Jeter.

Hanging onto a 4-1 lead, the Bronx Broskis exploded for six runs in the eighth – and batted around. A balk by Al Albuquerque sent Rodriguez to the plate, a single by pinch-hitter Jesus Montero drove in Mark Teixeira, and then Gardner plated Chris Dickerson (who pinch-ran for Nick Swisher).

And they still weren’t done.

A Daniel Schlereth wild pitch allowed Montero to score, then Robinson Cano knocked Martin and Gardner in with an two-run single.

10 runs in the game. And now we’re heading back to the Bronx, the ALDS tied 2-2.

The last time the Yankees played a Game Five in the ALDS was 2005, and it didn’t go well for them. The Bombers played in Anaheim and were outdone 5-3 at the hands of the Angels.

This time around, however, the Yankees will not be on the road. They will be in the comfort of Yankee Stadium and essentially they have home field advantage and momentum again.

In more good news for the Yanks, the last time they played a Game Five in the ALDS at home, they beat Oakland all the way back in 2001. Strangely enough they won the ’01 ALDS Game Five by the same score they lost the ’05 ALDS by: 5-3.

The Yankees broke the trend tonight. They seemed to be following the 2006 ALDS script a little too closely, but now they have the chance to make a little comeback and beat the Tigers; an opportunity to punch the proverbial ticket back to the American League Championship Series.

Ivan Nova, who dazzled in Game One, will take the mound in the deciding game, hoping to keep the postseason dream alive. He will be opposed by Doug Fister, who the Yankees got to on Saturday.

If the Yanks win Thursday, the Texas Rangers await them in the ALCS – a potential rematch of last year’s Championship Series.

Speaking of breaking playoff trends, the Yankees lost to the Rangers last year.

They will have to break that trend, too. But they have to get there, first. I’ll be working a high school football game Thursday night at 6:00, so I’ll probably only miss the first and maybe the second innings of the game.

When I get home, one thing is for sure: I am putting on my ninja turtles slippers.

Trending Topics

October 3, 2006: The Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers 8-4 in Game One of the American League Division Series at home – a rather easy win, a good start out of Chien-Ming Wang, and overall a well-played game.

October 1, 2011: The Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers 9-3 in Game One of the ALDS. Again, a relatively easy win in front of a partisan Yankee Stadium crowd; a good amount of offense (namely from Robinson Cano) and a good pitching performance from Ivan Nova led the way to a decisive victory for the Bronx Broskis.

October 5, 2006: The Tigers beat the Yankees in a close game, 4-3, taking game two – and home field advantage – away from New York.

October 3, 2011: The Tigers beat the Yankees 5-3, another close game, and swiped home field advantage, taking the series back to Detroit.

Noticing a trend here?

If you’re wondering, the Yankees were shut out in Game Three of the ’06 ALDS, 6-0, at the (greasy) hands of one Kenny Rogers. Their task tonight is to beat 24-game winner and American League Cy Young Award shoe-in Justin Verlander – a task which may prove to be very daunting.

On Saturday at Yankee Stadium before Game One was suspended, Verlander didn’t look like himself. His pitches were missing up out of the zone, and he walked two batters while giving up an earned run in the lone inning he tossed.

But that could have just been an aberration.

Just as Alex Murphy was transformed into RoboCop in Detroit (I’m not holding back with the obscure Detroit/RoboCop references for this series) tonight Verlander has the chance to morph back to what he really is; erase that mediocre first inning from Game One – and do it in front of his home audience at Comerica Park.

The Yankees will counter with their ace, CC Sabathia. The big man only pitched two innings before the first game was suspended, and while he recorded four strikeouts and didn’t issue a walk, he gave up a solo homer to Delmon Young in the first inning.

Over the last 10 games of the regular season, Sabathia was 4-3 with an ERA of 4.06. He allowed 87 hits in 68 2/3 innings, and gave up 31 earned runs.

Down the stretch, Sabathia seemed to struggle, yet the ace still posted 19 wins and finished with an ERA of 3.00. Even in the face of a scuffle, Sabathia showed he can still put up solid numbers.

Tonight Sabathia will have to stand toe-to-toe with the probable AL Cy Young Award winner – and the Yankee bats have to come alive, more alive than they were in Game Two. Yesterday they made Max Scherzer, a pitcher with nine losses and a 4.43 ERA this season, look like Nolan Ryan.

Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez are the three key offensive players that need to lead the team at the plate – especially A-Rod. Rodriguez is 0-for-8 in this series thus far. In another strange trend, he went 1-for-14 in the ’06 ALDS.

If Verlander happens to outduel Sabathia, the Yanks will find themselves in the same spot they were in back in 2006, down two games to one in the Motor City – and the pattern could continue.

Their ‘06 fate might be duplicated in ‘11.

October 7, 2006: Down two games to one, the Yankees sent Jaret Wright to the mound in an elimination game. Wright labored through two innings and gave up three runs, putting the Yankees in a quick hole they were never ever to climb out of. The Tigers went on to beat the Yankees 8-3 for the ALDS win.

October 4, 2011: The Yankees will send A.J. Burnett to the hill in what could be an elimination game; a loss tonight makes the series two games to one in favor of the Tigers. Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA this season – and you don’t have to sell any Yankee fan on how poorly Burnett pitched this year.

There is no Yankee fan anywhere in the world (at least that I know of) that has any faith in Burnett.

Tonight could make or break the series for New York. If the Yanks can pull out a win, then no matter what, at the very least they will be coming back to the Bronx for a Game Five.

But the Yankees will have to break this vicious trend if they want that to happen.

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